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Puppy Buyer Etiquette

Let's talk about puppy buyer etiquette. There is a whole different post on breeder etiquette when interacting with potential buyers and there are things that we as breeders should be doing better, which includes responding to everyone no matter the approach they take, including messages like how much. That's actually gotten more press in recent times though and the topic of helping prospective owners approach matters in a way that gets the breeders to talk to them. It’s important to help people learn how to get breeders all the information they need, be up front and ethical. Breeder ethics are critical, but so are puppy buyer ethics and transparency.

So what to do when approaching a breeder? Firstly, write out everything you have to say. If the breeder prefers a phone call, by all means, still write up what you have to say so that you have some notes when you give the breeder a call. The fact is, and this is another important point, there are breeders that are going to prefer phone calls and breeders are not obligated to respond to you in the medium of your choosing. I do believe that in this case it should be the potential buyer that has some flexibility. The reason for that being while prospective buyers are busy, too most breeders I know are balancing a day job, exhibiting their dogs, and breeding and raising litters. So I argue that they have more on their plate than average, so if a breeder prefers to hop on a phone call while they clean the puppy pen. That makes total sense. Likewise, I don't want to take a phone call while I'm with my dogs because then my attention is split. In this instance, the communication medium has to be driven a little bit in this case by the breeder rather than the buyer. And if you can't work with that, you're probably going to want to find a different breeder that works in a medium that you are more comfortable with. Since you will be corresponding with your breeder throughout your dog’s whole life, picking a medium you both communicate well in can be a huge boon.

When you reach out to a breeder and do your introduction, there things that most breeders want to see. They want to see who you are, who you live with, what animals live with you and what their history is and what the history of any other relevant dogs you've owned in the past is, if you have breed experience, if you are a dog professional or dog fancier or an exhibitor, if you're a preservation breeder all of those details are relevant. If you already own one of the same breed and in you’re in a small community, it's very possible, even probable, that the breeder has heard of you or at least knows the lines that your dog is from. I personally ask about training philosophy and how you will train the dog as they grow up, but some breeders aren’t as interested in that detail. That is something that can come later in the process, but it's always bonus if I see it up front. Also include current contact information, and here's one that doesn't get talked about very often, I would love to see from buyers the simple acknowledgement: “I know you're busy and I don't mind waiting for a response.” When I see that, it helps me understand that the potential buyer understands that the communication aspect of breeding is often the hardest part in some ways. Logistically it’s just a lot to juggle.

From there, assuming that the breed is a good fit one of two things will happen. 1. You will start having more prolonged conversations with the breeder. Most breeders are going to want to have that conversation. They're going to want to become friends with you, because when they place a dog with you, you become part of their extended family, so they want to have that communication. They want to see that commitment to communication. One I know someone it's going to be easier for me who doesn't like phones to hop on the phone with you and have a conversation. Similarly, breeder that likes phone calls for communication may be willing to take the time and watch for your emails and email your back. That’s been my experience at least.

2. The other thing that may happen is you may be sent a breeder’s questionnaire for a puppy. Fill that out promptly as much as you can. I do find that often, for breeders who send the questionnaire after the initial conversation, that's where the weeding out happens where people who aren't willing to wait, don't and find another breeder

That’s a really good segue into two more points. Firstly breeders talk. So if you reach out to a breeder, and you get on their list, and especially if they are in a small breed community, then you turn around and get a puppy from a different litter from a different breeder, and you never disclosed that you were talking to that other breeder that is going to leave a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths. It’s often not how the buyer intends it, but it feels like a bait and switch. It feels like we've invested time and energy out of our schedule and then you didn't value that enough to even tell us that you are going to go with a different breeder.

Additionally, again, breeders talk. I have gotten asked about my opinion about x potential puppy person before from other breeders I've referred to other breeders. But what is not going to be a green mark in your favor, is when you're on someone else's list and you go to another breeder, and the other breeder learns that you're on someone else's list, and you didn't disclose that to either party. The key is transparency and I think it's easy to get into the headspace where you are just looking for a puppy and you don't care which puppy within the breed but you just want one, so you go “Oh, well, this person doesn't have one available. So I'm going to go to this other breeder because they have one available.” And the breeder that you're on the list for is left a little bit high and dry.

Typically, especially in breeds were waitlists are long, we have to sort of triage and manage who we really think are best fit. If you're on a shortlist for a puppy, we can find a different placement if you back out at the last second, but we have spent the time we spend on you and then it just feels like that is not valued. I personally don't care if you're on other breeder lists, but just disclose that. I'm happy to refer people to other breeders. I just want to know what I'm working with and I think potential buyers owe that to breeders. This is a piece of etiquette that isn't understood on the potential buyers side of things often. I don't think that most times it's malicious, but it's definitely frustrating from a breeder’s perspective.

The other thing to note when looking for a puppy is if you have really specific requirements. That is not a bad thing necessarily. Knowing what you want and what you need is really important and can help breeders narrow down which puppy they're going to place with you. But the other thing to know is that if you have really specific requirements, not all breeders, not all puppies are the same. If a breeder tells you: “This puppy is what you need, this will fit what you want.” Or “This is the pairing or this breeder over here has a pairing that will fit.” Please, please listen because otherwise you get what I see with my training clients where they tell me one breeder wanted them to wait for such and such pairing but they didn't want to wait so I wouldn't got a puppy from someone else and that puppy is destroying the house because they're too high energy and they’re acting out and they’re play biting when all that could be fixed by the high drive/high energy puppy enrichment and giving them a job. But they have seven kids under the age of 10 at home. Those are the cases where the breed might not be a bad fit as a whole, but that family truly needed a specific individual puppy that fit their circumstance.

And I again think that is a piece that is not understood by buyers: when you come in you look at a litter of puppies and you say: “I want that one”. Very often it's the pushiest puppy, the puppy that I want to send to a sport home, or at least a show home. I have friends who love pushy puppies and pushy dogs and that's where that puppy would be going. But because that puppy is bright and pushy and in your face the buyers tend to say: “Oh that one I want that one.” They also tend to thing, and this is very easy to do, that all puppies are equal. So again, they're on a list for one litter and they go to a different breeder and the first breeder has spent a lot of time invested in talking with them and understands there is a lot of variation within a lot of breeds. Now there's also breeds that there's not temperament variation and where whatever puppy would fit fine- Here's a white one. That's not common, but I know a couple breeders in different breeds who have said it doesn't really matter what puppy I place with someone they're all similar in temperament meant enough that it's not going to matter. That's definitely not true for many other breeds, however. Certainly within my own breed where my interest lists for various litters are very different and don't have a ton of overlap. Look at my Anubi x Amidi pairing, which obviously I only got the one puppy from. I really liked that litter as a sports prospect litter, so I have worked very hard to get potential placements for that specific pairing which was relatively high drive, busy, and high work ethic for the breed. Compare that pairing to my to Tabiri x Amidi plans, which has some drive and a ton of intelligence, but is going to be more suited for an average home that go for hikes but also hangs out at home or goes down and to your daughter's soccer game to hang out, but doesn’t have the need to work like the pairing with Anu does. Remember, Anubi is a working dog, he will go out and work all day with me as a service dog, that is not a typical temperament for really any dog but especially the breed. And so I curate my interest list according to what is going to be a good fit.

If you ignore that or if breeder doesn't tell you that you're much more likely to end up with a bad fit.

Essentially, like I said earlier, be upfront that you are looking at different breeders. You're trying to decide who's a good fit, but I think being upfront when approaching them and disclosing that you’re in the very beginning research phases and talking to multiple breeders is helpful. But do remember, you’re interviewing the, just as much as they're interviewing you. Disclosing this information upfront is going to help breeders understand where you're at, and so they're not going to get really invested in you until you commit to them. Also this allows a good breeder to send you to a breeder that has a good fit for you coming soon even if they don’t have a good option for you.

Truly, understanding how to search for a breeder and how to find a breeder is difficult. Ideally, I'd love to say go to the parent club referral site, but also most owners I know don't know what a parent club. The phrasing is usually something like: Poodle Club of America, American Sloughi Association, etc. This can be an excellent source of information. Do note, for rarer breeds, there often isn’t a parent’ club that exists. Search for the parent club and go through the referral list. But also take that with a grain of salt and if you can talk to exhibitors and fanciers as much as you possibly can to try to get a sense of things in the breed. Because you're going to get different perspectives and the more that you are going into a situation with eyes wide open, the better.

Also, know that there are several breeds I know of who, if you talk to the majority of the breeders and often the breeders that are successful in various arenas, they will tell you absolutely do not go with the referral list from the parent club. My breed is one of those, Kai Ken's are one of those Kooikerhondjes are some of those. There is zero reason for a member of the general public to know that, especially when so many people are going to tell you check the parent club referral list. So instead, what I tend to like to say is check your various resources: do a Google search, do a Facebook search (a ton of breeders can be found this way). Then check the parent club site and cross reference all the information you’ve found. Then start interviewing.

Be aware that breeders talk amongst themselves. And if you are deemed a bad fit, and you're pushy about it, I am going to tell other breeders because that's my due diligence and I want to let them know things that I've found out. Similarly, if you lie to me, I'm probably going to find out and tell other breeders. Largely the people that I have dealt with have been very ethical and up front. But that is something to know is be careful how you present yourself and be honest. Please be honest, please. I know. Puppies are hard to come by. And it's really easy to stretch the truth or omit details in order to get the puppy but you're going get the best results if you're just honest and transparent. Not only that but if you are completely forthcoming, you are going to end up with the puppy that fits your home the best.

I promise when I make my post about breeder to owner etiquette, it's going to discuss the same issues. It's going talk about transparency on the breeder’s part, web presence, and marketing. We need transparency from both sides of this issue and we need better education on the subject because this is a sticking point.

Some final points before I wrap up. Absolutely I invited people to have their preferences. I understand someone preferring a specific color to another. However, from a good breeder’s perspective, color is usually the last thing on our minds. I get a lot of people asking me wanting a black brindle puppy out of Amalu. And I admit, the black coloration is striking. However, with Amalu the critical piece to my breeding program is the overall diversity she brings to the breed, which means I absolutely must prioritize placing puppies in breeding homes over pet homes. It’s an unfortunate reality, but one I can’t change while still meeting my goals for my program and helping my breed. So I will certainly keep in mind your preference in color, there’s also only so much I can do.

Regarding how most breeders decide placements - when I brought home my first well bred puppy, I was just a little shocked. What did the breeder mean, I didn’t get to pick my own puppy? I gave her my desires: ideally male, steady, stable, a dog I could bring anywhere. She matched me with the top two choices and I agreed that her top pick for me sounded great. I cannot imagine having brought home any other dog than Anubi. He was the perfect fit for what I wanted and his breeder knew her puppies well enough to match us perfectly.

It’s my belief that story is an example of puppy matching at its absolute best.

I don’t allow potential puppy families to pick their own puppies. I want to hear about your criteria, what will make a good companion for you personally. I want to hear your sex and color preferences, though I can never make guarantees. Once I have that information, then I can make a match that fits the best with your needs. That’s why I want to take the time to get to know people, so I can make the choices that are right for everyone. Yes, you could instead go to a breeder that places dogs based on color. And you would indeed end up with a dog in a color you liked, but wouldn’t you rather have the dog that fits your life like they were born for you? If you’re a marathon runner wouldn’t you rather have a tailor made running partner? If you are retired and live a quiet life, wouldn’t you rather have that dog who settles easily and loves to cuddle?

We you to be happy with your puppy not just the day they come home, but for their entire life.

Breeders don’t like saying no. There’s the secret. We don’t enjoy dashing people’s hopes. A whole lot of breeders could do better about helping people find a better alternative, but that’s for the other post. I want buyers to be happy. I want the dogs I produce to live long, happy lives as an integral part of their family. That’s why temperament and health are the focus of good breeders. And, while there are exceptions, color usually doesn’t impact health. What does impact health is if your dog develops hip dysplasia at 8 months and struggles to walk his entire life. Or has a clotting disease where you have to worry about every tiny scratch your dog gets their entire life. Or even allergies, which can be miserable both for the dog and the owner as they try to isolate what’s wrong. Good breeders aren’t going to only ever breed perfect dogs with no problems. There’s no such thing. But what they do know is the bloodlines they’re working with, what they carry, and what can be tested and guarded against.

Yes. You could go to a breeder that will sell you a puppy sight unseen. And that is your choice. But personally I will always prefer the balance of waiting for a puppy in order to have the perfect fit for me and my lifestyle. I would prefer the wait and reward of a lifetime of a healthy, known quantity than the instant happiness of an instant new puppy who pops up with unexpected health and temperament issues 7-12 months down the line.

In summary when look for a breeder, write out an introduction. It's really hard to give too much information. I'm almost always going to prefer more information to less. Be open and transparent about whether you're communicating with other breeders within a breed. Understand that not every puppy and every litter is the same within a breed and we're really not trying to hurt your feelings or shut you down by saying that a particular dog or litter isn't a good fit. If you take nothing out of this post, please take that away: Breeders want to place their puppies it's why we're breeding. We want you to enjoy the same companionship, we do. It's not about money for most. I don't care if it is breeders do make money. That’s not a sin. That being said, most breeders I know breed because they love the companionship of their personal dogs and want to share that. For the same reason, they want to share that companionship with the person who is going to be a good appropriate fit for that particular breed, that particular litter, that particular dog.

Understand that a ton of work goes into not only breeding but placements and that no one has fun saying no to you. No one wants to tell you no. Most are trying to educate on the topic, not gatekeep. Be patient. We're busy. No, not every breeder responds (which is a topic for my other post) but even for breeders who respond to every message sometimes turnaround time is a week or two weeks for correspondents. That’s about my turnaround time, which is slower than I want and I've really worked to reduce my response time, but it's hard. So please be patient.

Please try to work with the breeder in the communication medium that the breeder prefers. And just be our friends, be our family. Try to have a relationship with us and keep up with that relationship even after your puppy goes home with you, your breeder wants to support you.

And then lastly, and this one I didn't talk about in a longer format. Lastly, if you have a puppy from a breeder, stay in touch. As a trainer, I'm going to send people back to their breeders when they have questions about genetic temperament. Behavioral issues all of that. A lot of trainers won't. But your breeder wants to stay part of you and your puppy's life. If something is wrong, call your breeder. If you need to return your dog, talk to your breeder. They're gonna take your dog, a dog back responsible breeder should take the dog back. I know it's a hard conversation to have. I've had that conversation with people about needing to return a dog. I've had the conversation with clients about behavioral euthanasia. None of that is an easy conversation and approaching your breeder and saying hey, this isn't a good fit, this isn't working out is tough. It's hard because it's an admission of failure, I suppose. But also, if it's not working out most times it wasn't meant to. Most times it was a bad fit or your circumstances changed. And that's life. And almost every breeder I know would much rather you approach them and tell them it's not working so that you can come up with a solution and the breeder can take back the dog. That’s so much easier on everyone than seeing a dog they bred end up in a shelter. It’s a really hard conversation. But if it becomes relevant, you're not alone. It does happen. I've been there. It worked out but I've been there and so it's important to open that dialogue and I'll hit on it in my other post about breeder etiquette. But hopefully your breeder shouldn't be threatening to take your dog away for any little issue that pops up. Ideally, that shouldn't be the case. So if you have a good relationship with your breeder, that’s a discussion that people are going to be willing to have and really dig into the issues and try to resolve the underlying problem.

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